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Reviewed by:
  • Royalists and Royalism during the English Civil War
  • Mark Charles Fissel
Jason McElligott and David L. Smith, eds. Royalists and Royalism during the English Civil War.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. xiv + 252 pp. index. $99. ISBN: 978–0– 521–87007–8.

In the centuries that followed the execution of Charles I (30 January 1649), historians fixated on those who had opposed the king. Allegiance to the crown was expected; royalism was the norm. The aberration that demanded explanation was the emergence of an opposition whose apparently revolutionary actions were uncharacteristic of the English. Consequently, the cavaliers were relegated to a subordinate field of study. No longer.

Notable defections from the royal standard as well as from Parliament's camp indicated long ago that neither side possessed a monolithic and unifying ideology. Roundhead justifications and rationalizations, absolutely necessary under the circumstances, provide widely varying evidence as to the motives and beliefs of those who fought for Parliament. Divergent opinions fragmented the cavaliers so much so that their discord often crippled the war effort. Readers seeking an allembracing theory of royalism, or a new paradigm of allegiance, will find neither in this volume. The contributors remain divided as to a comprehensive definition of royalism. Similarly, there is no consensus regarding the character of Charles Stuart. The diversity of opinion found in these pages runs the gamut of current interpretations of royalism. And, refreshingly, the editors critique their own volume, identifying promising avenues for future research. McElligott and Smith lament the "strangely old-fashioned preoccupation with social elites," persistent "two-dimensional" models of allegiance, and lack of precision in current definitions of royalism (9). While their scholarly integrity impresses, the editors are too modest. Royalists and Royalism during the English Civil Wars gathers the very best minds in the field and produces a genuinely integrated and authoritative contribution to the field.

The book opens with a thunderbolt, hurled by Mark Kishlansky, who confronts head-on the collective wisdom of the field (save for Kevin Sharpe and a few others). Kishlansky characterizes King Charles as honest and flexible in his dealings with the pivotal Short Parliament (1640). That assembly's failure, Kishlansky insists, rests with the MPs themselves, a view diametrically opposed to the judgment of most historians from Victoria's day to the present. While it is still hard to believe that Charles would have redressed grievances once he had brass in pocket, such bold views reinvigorate. Tangential to Kishlansky's call for a reassessment of the king's personality is a marvelous essay by Sarah Poynting of Keele University. Her contribution is something that readers of Renaissance Quarterly relish, namely a cross-disciplinary inquiry into Charles's use of language. Poynting's interpretation of the king's rhetorical strategies and the discourses he constructed make for riveting reading. She greatly assists archival historians, for Poynting extracts historical evidence from the very structure of language in letters that have been perused frequently for content and facts. Poynting reveals an all-too-human king, so strikingly different from his portraits, willing himself toward martyrdom. [End Page 1007]

David Scott dissects the "dynamics of counsel" and royal advisors such as the bedchamber men. He incorporates a useful international dimension. For example, Sir Thomas Bendysh (unmentioned in this book, unfortunately), after being imprisoned by Parliament, lent the king (secretly and at great personal risk) several thousand pounds. Yet shortly thereafter Bendysh represented Parliament's interests in the Levant, and kidnapped royalist agents Sir Sackville Crowe and Sir Henry Hyde in Istanbul. Bendysh's royalism overseas was not necessarily identical with his royalism at home. Sean Kelsey, like Sarah Poynting, sees a Charles I destined for destruction, and counterbalances Kishlansky's benign view of the king. Kelsey's cavaliers contemplated the succession well before the king's head was separated from his body royal. Rachel Foxley plumbs the depths of the strange relationships among the royalists, the Levellers, and the New Model Army. The concept of separation of powers, often assumed to be peculiarly American, emerges in royalist political theory, as Michael Mendle discovers. The Stuart court, of course, spawned varieties of royalism, and Malcolm Smuts expertly explores these, while Blair Worden looks at...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1935-0236
Print ISSN
0034-4338
Pages
pp. 1007-1008
Launched on MUSE
2008-10-03
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived 2009
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